Researchers from the University of Tokyo, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and the Georgia Institute of Technology have developed a “zippered tube”, which possesses incredible strength and load-bearing capability which has the potential to revolutionise diverse fields from civil engineering to space exploration.
The “zippered tube” was inspired by the traditional Japanese paper-folding art of origami.
Origami principles underlie a lot of today’s engineering research and the method is a hot topic of interest amongst academics and scientists as recognition of the potential applications of this next-gen engineering method spreads.
"Origami became more of an objective for engineering and science just in the last 5 years or so. A lot of it was driven by space exploration, to be able to launch structures compactly and deploy them in space. But we're starting to see how it has potential for a lot of different fields of engineering. You could prefabricate something in a factory, ship it compactly and deploy it on site,” explained Evgueni Filipov, a University of Illinois PhD graduate researcher.
Paper art origami is renowned for maintaining its strength despite its small size and light weight, the same concept applies to origami-style engineering.
Origami engineering prototypes are light and compact when folded for easy transportation, but when opened-up they become firm and rigid, strong load-bearing structures with a multitude of uses.
“The ability to change functionality in real time is a real advantage in origami. By having these transformable structures, you can change their functionality and make them adaptable. You can change the material characteristics: you can make them stiffer or softer depending on the intended use,” said Filipov.
The researchers believe an engineering revolution led by light-metals, paper and plastics may lie ahead.
This style of engineering is very much in its infancy, but if things go well then diverse fields will be transformed, including, but not limited to: